Okinawa trains sights on Chinese outbound

OKINAWA has been seeing a steady increase in the number of visitors from mainland China since a new multi-entry visa was launched on July 1 (TTG Asia e-Daily, September 5), and is rolling out a series of initiatives to boost the number further.

Speaking to TTG Asia e-Daily at the Okinawa MICE Project 2011 in Ginowan, Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau (OCVB) chairman, Shigenobu Asato, said there were 2,141 mainland Chinese visitors who availed of the new visa from July 1 to August 31.

“Relatively speaking, since it has only been two months since the new visa was launched, we believe it has been successful so far,” said OCVB Chinese market representative Shigema Sachiyo.

The multiple-entry visas are targeted at upper middle-class Chinese FITs, with annual incomes of at least 250,000 yen (US$39,100), as well as their families, who are required to travel to Okinawa on their first visit. They can subsequently visit other Japanese destinations over the next three years for stays of up to 90 consecutive days, although travel must be undertaken with transit via Okinawa.

Besides the visa boon, Asato said he was hoping to leverage on the historical relationship between Okinawa and China to tap mainland Chinese visitors. Promotional material and a website translated into Mandarin are being rolled out to highlight the various products on offer in Okinawa.

Other scheduled promotional initiatives include a fair in Fuzhou from November 5-7, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Naha City and Fuzhou as sister cities, which will feature Okinawan cultural drum dancers and a tourism seminar with suppliers from Okinawa, and a marketing drive in Shanghai from November 18-20, highlighting the various Okinawan product retailers in the Chinese city.

Contributing to the steady increase in mainland Chinese arrivals to Okinawa are direct flights, including four-weekly Shanghai services operated by China Eastern, as well as twice-weekly Beijing services launched by Hainan Airlines on July 28.

According to Sachiyo, additional twice-daily Beijing services are being planned by Chinese flag carrier Air China, while OCVB is looking to start charter flights from Fuzhou to cater to the South-east China outbound market.

Asato said: “All of our direct flights from China are almost always fully booked. We are definitely looking to cater to the increased demand by boosting frequencies and adding new routes, but at the moment, the (international) airport is running at near full capacity and facilities are hard pressed to cater to the increased numbers.”

Meanwhile, Koichiro Toyama, Singapore business development representative, Okinawa Industry Promotion Public Corporation, said the Okinawa government was looking to open a representative office in Beijing, which would add to its existing offices in Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

According to Toyama, the government has already appointed a person to manage the office, but is still looking for a suitable venue. “With the new office, it will be easier for Chinese travellers to apply for visas, organise seminars (in Okinawa), and for us to provide tourism information and sell our products to the Chinese market,” he said.

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